By Donald Wittkowski
Erik Wade – and his stranded sailboat – finally got back into the water Thursday.
With Wade aboard, the 36-foot boat was plucked from the beach in Sea Isle City around 7:45 a.m. by a powerful marine towing vessel anchored off shore.
Wade had been stuck in the sand on the 61st Street beach after running aground Sunday morning while traveling from Boston to Key West, Fla. The winds and tide pushed him ashore after his anchor line snapped while he was asleep Saturday night, he said.
The sailboat remained trapped on the beach for four days until Wade arranged for a towing company to come rescue him when the tides became favorable Thursday morning.
Slightly askew while resting on the sand, the boat quickly became upright when the towing line yanked it into the water shortly after sunrise.
“She held together. It doesn’t appear I took on any water,” Wade said by phone while assessing the condition of his boat while still tethered to the tow line.
However, what appeared to be a broken tiller arm left him without any ability to steer his sailboat. The tow boat was expected to take Wade to the Seaview Harbor Marina in Longport for repairs.
“Because of the destruction and damages I suffered, it’s going to take me a little while before I’m on my way again,” Wade said.
For the 40-year-old Wade, who uses the boat as his home, it was the latest setback in his attempt to sail to Key West for a winter sojourn after his job in Boston as a union bridge painter ended for the season.
The trip from Boston has been marked by rough seas, harsh weather and even some snow. Wade ran aground in late November in the Great Egg Harbor Inlet near the Ocean City-Longport Bridge and had to be rescued by TowBoat U.S., said company owner John Ryan.
Using a 107-foot tow boat, Ryan’s Somers Point-based company came to Wade’s aid again to pull him off the beach in Sea Isle.
“I’m hoping he can go far enough south so he’s not in my area and I don’t have to worry about him anymore,” Ryan joked of Wade.
Ryan said his company charged Wade just $1,500 to tow him from Sea Isle when the cost would normally be closer to $15,000.
“It is Christmas time and we’re trying to be nice,” Ryan said.
Throughout his unintended stay in Sea Isle, Wade benefited from the hospitality of local residents who gave him food and even a place to sleep.
The odd sight of a beached sailboat attracted the attention of hundreds of curious onlookers for four days, serving as a prop for selfies that have circulated on social media.
Sea Isle resident Trish Hansen was walking on the beach Sunday morning in thick fog when she stumbled upon a boat trapped in the sand and thought to herself, “That’s different.”
“He was on the beach trying to figure things out,” Hansen recalled of Wade. “You could tell by his body language that he was frustrated.”
After striking up a conversation with Wade and learning of his predicament, Hansen allowed him to sleep on the couch at her home on 46th Street.
“She is fantastic,” Wade said, expressing his gratitude to Hansen. “She’s been a phenomenal help. She’s my good Samaritan.”
Hansen said it was clear that Wade needed a helping hand after his boat washed ashore. She was on the beach Thursday morning to bid him farewell.
“He’s a nice kid. He’s so soft-spoken,” she said. “Just about everything he has is on that boat. He has nothing else.”
Marty Sannino, of Lower Township, treated Wade to coffee and a breakfast sandwich on Thursday morning and also bought him some groceries at a local supermarket. Sannino, a former sailboat owner, said he felt a kinship with Wade.
“I identified with him because I’m a former sailboat owner myself,” Sannino said. “I wanted to help out in any way I can. That’s the way I am.”
Wade said he doesn’t have a lot of money and will depend on his unemployment benefits when – or if – he finally makes it to Key West. He values his steel-hulled sailboat, named “Pyrate,” at about $40,000.
A GoFundMe site has been set up to help him pay for the cost of repairing the boat and docking at a marina.
“I’m just so grateful,” he said of the help he received from so many people.
The boat, somewhat battered from wear and tear over the years, largely is in need of cosmetic improvements, he said. He noted he has been investing in it to make it a better home.
“It is my home. It is my dream. I don’t want to lose my home,” he said.